I will start by saying that I absolutely loved my time in Tromso. In fact – both my daughter and I just had such a great time – we would love to go there for another visit.
Getting There (International Flights)
We went to Tromso from the UK. From the UK, you can find direct flights only from Gatwick airport via Norwegian Airways. The direct flights are not that frequent, so you have to plan well.
There are more options of course if you book flights with stopovers which was what I did going back from Tromso, with a change in Trondheim. It was probably not very smart if you have a short transfer time and you have Asian passports like us to do that kind of stopover. We had to literally run from one side of the airport to another and then queue to pass through immigration to fly back from Trondheim to the UK. So if you find yourself in my kind of situation – with Asian passport doing transfers between UK-EU, do build in sufficient time so that you don’t miss your connecting flight.
There are of course other direct international flights to Tromso from Munich, Helsinki and so on. Again – the direct flights are usually not that frequent – just a few times a week.
Tromso has got a good selection of quality hotels.
We stayed at Clarion Collection Hotel With which is by the quayside in Tromso harbour. Excellent location – close to restaurants, shops (including a snow gear rental store which has excellent stock to fit anyone and everyone), the tourist information centre, the Polar Museum, and so on. And of course the view is beautiful – past the boats, you can see beautiful mountains behind the Arctic Cathedral.
The hotel was nice and clean – breakfast was good. The hotel interiors are a bit unique. The rooms, the halls etc. are inspired by Tromso’s maritime history. Some of the items in the decor are actually borrowed from the local museum.
If you want something a bit modern – an alternative I was also considering that time was Radisson Blu. Both hotels are close to each other.
I will start with this because this was the main reason for us to fly into Tromso. The best time to see the Northern Lights is between September to April. A couple of things to note…
- There is no guarantee that you will see the lights – so you should stay a minimum of 4 nights in the area to be safe. Although there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to see the lights in the 4 nights either – its pure luck
- You probably have to search for the lights because they won’t be visible when it is cloudy in your area – and I think quite often people drive away from Tromso to see the lights
- Best option is to go with a good tour company that will bring you to the best spot to view the lights, make sure you have the right gears so that you don’t freeze to death and even help out with your camera settings
- Good camera is essential – rent one if you don’t want to buy one. Seriously!
I booked us with Chasing Lights – and I have to say they are one the best Northern Lights tour company I have dealt with so far. Please read my review here.
Reindeer Sledding & Feeding
There are approximately 200,000 reindeers in Norway. About 30 minutes drive from Tromso City Centre, you will find a reindeer camp owned by a Sami family.
You can book a tour directly with them to do a 15 to 30 minutes reindeer sledding around the area. If you are not into sledding, you should at least do reindeer feeding. Can’t leave wintery Tromso without feeding any! Read more about the company here.
In the summer, reindeers eat grass, herbs and ferns on the tundra; in the winter they feed on lichens and fungi. They are very friendly – but they do get a bit excited when they see you coming with food – I know my daughter got a bit ‘concerned’ when a few of them headed towards her at one go.
I just watched Frozen 2. I felt somehow a bit more appreciative of the culture of the Northern people they depicted in the movie, having joined the Sami folks for a meal at their camp and listening to their beautiful voice singing their traditional song or ‘joik’. It was a beautiful experience I will never forget. And having hot soup (bidos – traditional Sami stew) in a warm tent in the cold winter – it was just amazing.
The Sami inhabited northern Scandinavia for thousands of years – it’s remarkable to hear their journey as reindeer herders and how they fought for their rights for their land and to freely practice their culture.
Interesting point from Frozen (1) if I can call it that – Frode Fjellheim, a musician/composer of Sami roots co-wrote the movie opening song ‘Vuelie’ which features ‘joik’ – which basically introduced Sami music to Hollywood and the world.
The Polar Museum is a short walk from our hotel. The museum opened in 1978; opening hours are from 11 am to 5 pm during winter. If you have a few hours to spare before your Northern Lights tour in the evening and it is too dark and cold to do anything else – why not spend the time indoors at the museum and learn a thing or two about sealing and trapping in the Arctic.
We didn’t get a chance to visit, but we had a beautiful view of the church from the hotel. Beautiful architecture from the outside. I heard it’s just as beautiful on the inside. A good idea if you plan to visit is maybe to attend one of the many concerts held there throughout the year. The cathedral is a popular venue for concerts of various genres – from folk music, classical and Sami music.
I found food to be quite expensive in Tromso. We ate breakfast at the hotel – excellent spread. The Clarion Hotel With also often includes meals in their room rates – which was the reason I chose the hotel over Radisson at the time. It’s quite nice to come back in the afternoon after a morning outing and have some waffles before dinner and aurora hunting in the evening!
There is a Burger King near the centre if you want something familiar. We did that too. It was not cheap.
We did try one of the local restaurants near the hotel – I enjoyed eating hot soup so much at the Sami camp that I went around looking for fish soup at the local bistros.
Winter Clothing Rental
If you come from a warm climate country like us – you have to seriously think whether to buy or rent your gears. Aurora hunting can mean extreme weather. So you could buy clothes that you will probably hardly ever wear again (or outgrow them in the case of my daughter) or just rent them. We did a bit of both. I found a shop Tromso Outdoor near our hotel that had great gears for rent – ski pants, thick jackets, snow boots etc. Being vertically challenged (and not having lost much weight since having all three kids – sigh), finding the right size is a nightmare. This shop seems to have sizes that can fit any height (and width!).
Also, when we were in Tromso – it so happened that it was really icy and slippery. Found out the hard way – slipped and fell on the sidewalk. Not only it hurts but embarrassing too! The shoe store next to Tromso Outdoor sells strap-on shoe spikes – really, really useful (take it from the girl who fell on her butt – hard)
Till We Meet Again...
Tromso is lovely town – not too busy, but not that quiet either. I think the right balance for most folks. If you want to do aurora hunting, this is an excellent place to be in because there are many Northern Lights tour options, and during the day (although the days are short in winter), you have a number of activities that can keep you easily occupied. We only stayed a short while in Tromso; I wished I had booked us more time there. Well – till next time then…
Read more posts on Tromso attractions in the following links